Take It Outside

17 of Seattle's Best Patios

Because it’s never too early to start thinking about alfresco dining.

By Kathryn Robinson May 10, 2016 Published in the May 2016 issue of Seattle Met

Seattle does a dead-on Baja impersonation in this color-washed cool breeze of a beach cafe at the UW edge of Portage Bay. A healthy emphasis reigns, from environmentally friendly and good-for-you foods (hormone-free beef, sustainably caught fish) to an impressive array of vegetarian and vegan options. There’s even a kayak rental outfit downstairs for working off the carbs. But hedonists take heart, for Agua Verde serves up a high “yum” quotient. Tacos—three to an order—feature inventive combos like yams and chilies with cotija cheese or cod fried in coconut-beer tempura and served with shredded cabbage and avocado cream. Rum and tequila flow through this gringo-happy joint like the California Current—to particularly friendly effect in the tart Mexican lime margarita—which makes scoring a deck table on sunny summer afternoons a lesson in patience. So is waiting for your waiter—that blur over there working very hard and still never quite getting to you. 1303 NE Boat St, University District, 206-545-8570  

Don’t hate her because she’s beautiful. This sprawling, window-walled sensation at the tip of Pier 70 features cruise-ship vistas of Elliott Bay, along with an interior view—shiny exhibition kitchen, shiny copper light fixtures, shiny gorgeous people—to rival them. All brought to you by the same folks behind bet-a-million local steak house chain, El Gaucho. So: piano bar, check; $82 plate of filet and lobster tail, check. Asian-tweaked fish treatments can hold more culinary intrigue but have proven inconsistent in the execution realm. Still, the plus column is far from empty, featuring a good rotating list of oysters, surprisingly substantive cocktails, a warm-weather patio for sunset loveliness, and Seattle’s most dazzling glass-enclosed private room at the end of the pier. 2801 Alaskan Way, Pier 70, Waterfront, 206-956-9171; $$$$ 

A whole lot of folks now detour through Hillman City since the very careful proprietors of this refurbished gas station began peddling their Peruvian charcoal-roasted rotisserie chicken. Choose quarters, halves, or wholes—dark or light meat (some nights juicier than others)—then choose among the insanely terrific sides: lime-glazed sweet potatoes, corn salad, a mouth filler of a crunchy kale slaw, and a carb loader’s dream of cheesy potatoes are among the best. Technically the only seating is at outdoor picnic tables with sheets of clear plastic to keep out the elements in winter (read: bring the Polartec)—but the chili-spiced brownies for dessert have warming properties of their own. 5520 Rainier Ave S, Rainier Valley; $ 

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Big Chickie Pollo a la Brasa in Rainier Valley

Tom Douglas, Seattle’s most famous restaurateur, brings his intelligent brand of comfort food to the burgeoning South Lake Union headquarters of Amazon, in a classic wood-rafters-and-vintage-signs beer hall above his Cuoco Italian restaurant. The deal is 30-plus tap beers (including a locally brewed Brave Horse signature ale) with burgers and fresh pretzels for ballast. Burgers are on the diminutive side, but crafted of Painted Hills chuck, ground in house, and topped with applewood bacon, perhaps, or fried pasilla chili, on terrific Dahlia bakery buns. Better yet are the malt-boiled, hearth-roasted pretzels—fresh, buttery, yeasty testimonials to the Douglas empire’s baking savvy—that you dip into toppings from cheddar-pimento to smoky peanut butter–bacon. The former warehouse is exuberant as spring break, with young adults playing darts and shuffleboard and a crowd of dashing young tech titans oozing testosterone. (Bring the trolling lady friends.) 310 Terry Ave N, South Lake Union, 206-971-0717; 

Out of a winsome whitewashed farmhouse setting in Ballard come plates of inspired Korean fusion so buoyant they ricochet across the palate like pinballs: dishes like smoked lamb shoulder with soy-pickled green garlic, charred spring onions, and paper-thin daikon radishes in a black bean vinaigrette, or sumptuous morsels of barbecued pork shoulder with seasonal kimchi—served as larges or smalls to enable full dinners or affordable grazing. The food is intelligent and satisfying, the welcome genuine, the bar scene lively (credit thoughtful cocktails), and the enchanting hidden courtyard a sun-dappled must on the romance tour. 425 NW Market St, Ballard, 206-420-2534; $$$

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Brimmer and Heeltap

Image: Olivia Brent

Not even the Space Needle delivers a stiffer shot of Seattle than an organic pizza joint, hand built of recycled materials by its LEED-certified architect owner—he even made the stools. Humble Pie smokes its own GMO-free pulled pork, imports merely five ingredients from out of state, processes its own rainwater, and maintains a chicken coop. Snicker at your own peril, for these are killer, wood-fired pizza crusts, thin but with plenty of spring in the chew, topped with combos like organic Fuji apple, Beecher’s Flagship cheese, and bacon or smoked eggplant with cherry tomatoes and red onion. Mostly outdoor seating makes this a mostly-in-summer place, but bevs (boutique brews, rotating ciders) and the neighborhood vibe are irresistible even if you have to cram into the tiny building. 525 Rainier Ave S, International District, 206-329-5133; $$ 

When it opened in 2007, Joule was like nothing Seattle had ever tasted. Not only were Korean thrills like kimchi and fermented tofu still breaking news outside the exotic mom-and-pops of Shoreline and Federal Way, we’d never before seen them fused with classic Western cuisine. When it moved in 2012, it reemerged in sleek Fremont quarters as a Korean-fusion steak house. Expect the humblest cuts of beef—pot roast, shoulder—cooked to perfectionist specs and draped in unexpected fire from chili sauces and fermented tofu; expect sides like sliced pennies of crispy-chewy rice cake with greens and chorizo, or Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto, or some other innovation you cannot believe tastes this extraordinary. 3506 Stone Way N, Fremont, 206-632-5685; $$$

Lending new meaning to the term watering hole, this enchanting little haunt clad in sea-blue subway tile and anchored with a happy rounded bar for enjoying small plates of seafood feels a little like being underwater. Bracing cocktails are big on piscos and cachaças, and the food can evoke the same lower latitudes, like plantain chips (which longed for a dipping sauce) or rockfish ceviche lushly partnered with cubes of avocado and sweet potato, then lit bright as a Baja sunset with chilies and plenty of lime. Stick with the seafood—denatured, smoked, poached, or grilled—perhaps enjoying it out the paned French doors around the open-air fire pit. Sweet service. 3621 Stone Way N, Fremont, 206-294-3331; $$

First there was the truck, beloved for Spam sliders, kimchi fried rice, ginger-chicken tacos, and other vibrant collisions of Korean, Hawaiian, even Mexican flavors. Then there was the brick-and-mortar foothold, Marination Station, at Pike and Broadway. Now meet Marination Ma Kai, which holds down the West Seattle Water Taxi stop by the sheer weight of its pork katsu sandwiches (officially the messiest—and maybe tastiest—sandwiches in town). Here you’ll find all the usual Marination suspects, along with the panko fish-and-chips, Hawaiian shave ice, and full bar you want at a summertime waterfront joint. If the on-site rental kayaks and bikes haven’t already taken your breath away, the full frontal view of downtown Seattle from the picnic tables on the patio will. Breakfast sandwiches too! 1660 Harbor Ave SW, West Seattle, 206-328-8226; $ 

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Marination Ma Kai

Seattle has seen a number of Marjories: the cozy Belltown original, exotic as a gypsy caravan; the windowy quarters on Capitol Hill, which kicked culinary pretentions up a notch; and most recently the evolution of that space into a relaxed neighborhood charmer like the original. Owner Donna Moodie, one of the city’s genuine hosts, has warmed hard edges with pillows and exuberant color on azure walls; in summer the garage doors roll up and the happy burble from the bar and restaurant rolls out onto the patio. Across the alley, an adjunct space seats overflow or private parties. The menu pays globe-trotting homage to Italy (with dishes like porchetta and housemade gnocchi), India (tikka masala chicken), and the American South (Marjorie’s classic juicy pork shank with grits and greens and red-eye gravy); but the attention getter is a fat messy burger with aioli, harissa ketchup, and, if you want it, a distractingly thick slab of bacon. The dessert menu may go beyond the bourbon brioche bread pudding, but we never have. 1412 E Union St, Capitol Hill, 206-441-9842; $$

Seattle came of age as a Pacific Rim city the instant Monsoon unleashed its splendors upon the residential eastern side of Capitol Hill. Until then, unbelievably, there hadn’t been a contemporary Vietnamese restaurant in town: no sleek love child of a worldly European bistro and a seasoned Vietnamese kitchen, no ingenious hybrid of Northwest (as in freshness) and Southeast (as in Asian). By the time an even more elegant branch had opened in Old Bellevue, the place had become a bona fide legend—and all because of some of the region’s most extraordinary, and consistent, food. The grilled beef wrapped in la lot leaves and the drunken chicken are two of the most famous dishes in town, with good reason. Weekend morning dim sum features both French and Vietnamese selections; the Seattle location’s bar and rooftop deck round out its charms. Monsoon, 615 19th Ave E, Capitol Hill, 206-325-2111. Monsoon East, 10245 Main St, Bellevue, 425-635-1112; $$

A quarter century ago, it was Seattle’s original cult restaurant: the enigmatic entrance (no sign, just a pink door off Post Alley) the Parisian flea market decor, dripping chandeliers and—after a few years—the burlesque cabaret that if you timed it right would send Tanya the Trapeze Lady soaring over your bechamel lasagna. But more than any of these charms, the city owes its fondness for the Pink Door to the deck. Along about half past 80 degrees on a July afternoon, the ordinary Pike Place Market rooftop magically transforms into a slice of sun-dappled heaven. It’ll be so packed you’ll feel lucky just to be there, swizzling a pink vodka cocktail and twirling linguine and lazily watching the sun as it crashes into Elliott Bay. In short: The Door has never been about the food, a list of pastas and seafoods that unreliably satisfy. But we dare you to stop going. Not wheelchair accessible. 1919 Post Alley, Pike Place Market, 206-443-3241; $$

For over four decades, this dockside legend defined iconic Northwest dining, with its archetypal seafood menu, its record of pristine sourcing (Copper River salmon was practically invented here), its stunning wide-angle view over Shilshole Bay and the Olympic Mountains. It’s now settled into a more staid level of accomplishment along with a more casual decorative retrofit, eliminating some of its big-night-out cachet. (One even might have a drop-in shot at a table in the new main-floor bar.) The menu gussies up the mainly seafood preparations more than it once did, but fish is still cooked with appropriate restraint. Service is careful and desserts terrific. Upstairs is Ray’s Cafe, home of an even better view, a breezy deck, a family-oriented menu, and mediocre food. 6049 Seaview Ave NW, Ballard, 206-789-3770; Ray’s Boathouse: $$$$ Ray’s Cafe: $$ 

Chef Eric Donnelly built his casual raw-beamed fish house as a Montana fishing lodge smack in the heart of upper Fremont. And if the deep menu seems overambitious—a dozen each of small plates and large ones, and that’s just the seafood—Donnelly has navigated his share of long menus in corporate restaurants, with startling success. Here, his wild Mexican prawns over grits is a sure-handed and bright Napa Valley–style plate; his mad variety of finfish preparations, often topped with handfuls of leafy herbs, are exact and supremely satisfying. Affable service completes the picture. A perfect place to bring your out-of-town guests when they say they want fish. Open late. 4300 Fremont Ave N, Fremont, 206-557-7532; $$$

Slackers who once hauled hangovers to brunch at Linda’s Tavern are married and mortgaged Mad Men now, preferring their neighborhood restaurants sophisticated and their Bombay Sapphire tonics with a pinch of ginger. For them there’s Tallulah’s, from the very same Linda (Derschang, who has also brought us King’s Hardware, Oddfellows, Smith, and Bait Shop): A classy, glassy marvel of midcentury good taste amid the fine homes of North Capitol Hill, where aging hipsters chat loudly beneath floating globe pendants, enjoying weekend brunches like chunky corned beef hash with poached eggs, and evening noshes (topped flatbreads, veggie small plates) and healthy mains. Cocktails are creative, coffee is Caffe Vita, gluten-free and vegan are carefully marked on the menu, and a welcoming staff scatters bonhomie about the room. 550 19th Ave E, Capitol Hill, 206-860-0077; $$


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Terra Plata

Image: Olivia Brent

Into the skinny, window-lined point of Melrose Market one of Seattle’s finest chefs, Tamara Murphy, has tucked a more rustic, more casual, and more global chaser to her late, great Brasa. At wood tables or the warm triangular bar, a broad demographic of diners nibble off small plates of spot prawns in chimichurri or velvety charcuterie, or order among meat, seafood, or veggie plates—including more than a few of the classics (roast pig with clams and housemade chorizo) this pig-loving chef made famous at Brasa. The space particularly shines by streaming daylight, which Murphy exploits with lunch and brunch service. Rooftop dining too. 1501 Melrose Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-325-1501; $$$ 

In summer it’s pure Hamptons, as you tie your boat to the North Lake Union dock and slurp beautifully shucked oysters at an Adirondack chair on the tiny beach. In winter it’s all about the cozy, sipping inspired cocktails inside the whimsical basement in the glow of the hearth oven. Inventions can miss from time to time, and the place can suffer from a surfeit of tropes. But oh, that beach in summer. 2501 N Northlake Way, Wallingford, 206-552-8215; $$$

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